Love- of what exactly?

I remember the first time I got off the plane in Tel Aviv. The excitement at every little thing. Falling in love with Israel, my country.
The foreign landscape
The ancient trees
The street signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English
CNN international
Speaking Hebrew to ‘real’ Israelis
The sense of history
Jerusalem stone

Between that visit and now, I’ve been in Israel a number of times.
Each visit less and less exotic.

This time, as I sat in the sherut from the airport to Yerusahalyim
with the sun setting golden over the Jerusalem mountains
and the moon, nearly full faintly on display,
It should be more romantic.
Instead I felt empty.

Perhaps it was not Israel that I loved
but traveling.

Since that first visit to Israel
I’ve seen more foreign landscapes
more ancient trees
street signs in many languages.
I’ve watched other tv channels
spoken in more languages
and seen more history
and more stones.

There are memories I relish more
and places where I have felt more free.
What is Israel to me?
Why do I feel so empty?

Being Invisible

This morning- I got to minyan early. I’m standing in the synagogue, reconnecting with someone I haven’t seen in years when three others walk into the room. One of them says, “great we have four people.”

To be honest I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember math. When does 2+3=4? When one has the xx character trait thereby making her ineligible to count in an Orthodox minyan and apparently rendering her invisible and not a person.

This experience has happened to me before- Unfortunately, I have been relegated to non-person status in cities all over the world, almost always by  men, who, I hope, don’t realize the pain that they have caused . What makes this time different is that I’m at the Siach conference- an environmental and social justice conversation. More info here.

It is certainly a great group of very talented people. Most of the conversations that I’ve had have been with fascinating people, presenting the challenge of not wanting to extract myself from intense and good discussions. I was having a great time until this moment, and I’m not sure what to do with it. Perhaps I was tired because this morning I just stood there in silence (usually i have use some snarky reply to the effect of “no you need one more man, i’m a person too”). I expected that I might not count in the minyan. But I didn’t expect to be rendered invisible.

How can we talk about social justice when we can’t even acknowledge the personhood of those standing right in front of us?

Clearly we have work to do.

Pesah Sermon

-delivered in on the 2nd day of Passover at Ramah Darom

חג כשר ושמח
When you think about it, this is a quite strange thing to say.
Have a kosher and happy holiday?
For many who have prepared a home for passover, these seem like diametric opposites. And it seems incredibly difficult to attain a kosher for passover home as well as maintaining happiness. (especially if you don’t attend pesah at Ramah Darom!)

It does make sense to wish a חג שמח, we say this on many hagim. but why would we remark on kashrut? Why not say, may you appreciate or attain liberty or may you enjoy the beginnings of Spring. Why wish people a kosher Passover?!

Pesah does stand out as a time when more people are interested in kashrut than usual. Not only kashrut, but the intricacies of the law. Many many people adopt a more stringent practice on passover than the rest of the year. This is even acknowledged in the tradition of tending towards the stricter position when Passover is involved.

In the Talmud in Berakhot it says שואלין ודורשין בהלהות הפסח קודם שלושים יום- that we start to learn the laws of Passover 30 days in advance, presumably to give ample time for application of these principles. In the Conservative movement we usually are open to, if not favor being lenient whenever reasonable, but generally not with regards to Passover.

Whether it’s not eating bread, or attending a seder, many of us can think of examples of individuals that we know who push the extent of their religious observance for Passover. In mentioning this to a friend last shabbat, I was told of a coworker who, on Passover, would take the cheeseburger off the bread and eat it between two pieces of matzah! Because we don’t eat bread on passover of course! While that is a bit of an extreme example, to a greater or lesser extent we can all think of instances of this, from families who tend not to eat out on Passover to individuals who though the rest of the year may rely on the ingredient list on a package to decide what products to eat, on Passover chooses only products with a hekhsher. And many remember with affection their meager school lunches and perhaps taking pride in the reactions of classmates or coworkers at their surprise at our choices of cuisine.

Why is this? Why would our people who try to hard to balance tradition and change push so heavily towards tradition on this time of year? Why would individuals who generally don’t express their connection to Judaism though observing tradition, find unique ways to mark Passover. What is it about passover that awakens in us the need to be particularly stringent or even just the need to add more practices to our regular repertoire?

This is all further compounded by the fact that pesah is meant to celebrate freedom from slavery and the liberation of our people. Why mark freedom with a proscribed list of the 14 very specific steps that represent the very ordered agenda for the evening, the seder? How does eating karpas and then maror demonstrate this? Why is reading the same passages each year the ritual for marking liberation?

I could think of much more obvious ways of marking freedom- for example, a night with no proscriptions, where everyone is free to relax and choose how to spend the order of the evening. And I’m sure with some creative thinking, most of you could manage to arrive at better ways to mark freedom too. I’m also almost certain that no one would concoct a seder as the way to mark freedom.

So how did we end up celebrating pesah with a seder and being particularly restrictive in our practices?

I didn’t find the answer to this question in the traditional literature, and am not sure I have an airtight answer, (if you have ideas or insights, I’d love to hear them over the course of the holiday) but I did come across an insight that perhaps leads us in the direction of an answer.

The Slonimer Rebbe, author of the Netivot Shalom writes about how Nisan, called the first month of the year by the Bible, is a sort of New Year unto itself. He ends up comparing this new year with Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah, the theme is repentance and we hopefully, take stock of our actions. At this time of year, the prays speak of “who shall live and who shall die” and The motivating impulse is yirah, fear. G-d sits apart and judges each of us objectively, though we hope and implore that G-d treat us with hesed, lovingly.

Nisan, however, comes in Spring, and represents a different kind of renewal. On Pesah we read Shir-Hashirim, The paradigmatic love poem fitting the theme of spring when “love is in the air” and fitting because, as the Slonimer Rebbe, notes: Pesah is a celebration of G-d who acted out of love and redeemed us from slavery in Egypt. G-d rescued us, not because we deserved it, but because of love. In this model, G-d acts as a partner in a relationship with us.

Rabbi Benjie Siegel noted about Shir Hashirim that it is a quite egalitarian notion of relationships. Both parties speak, both parties love, and they describe each other in what seems like a more mutual relationship than we would expect of the Bible. By reading this description of love on Pesah, we are claiming that G-d’s love for us requires a mutual reciprocation, as it were.

Perhaps it is this framing which helps ground us in our increased observance around Passover. In response to G-d’s act of love, of bringing us out of Egypt, we mark our relationship through mitzvah. In our earthly relationships, we can all think of examples of actions that we perform, not because we particularly want to, but because we have a commitment to and feel love for others. Perhaps in your families examples might be washing the dishes even when tired, or stoping to pick up groceries when you’ve had a long day. The mitzvot of pesah are our ways of reciprocating G-d’s love, When we choose to eat matzah instead of bread, clean our houses, perform the order of the seder are all our way of returning G-d’s love for us demonstrated initially at the redemption we are celebrating today, and at other times in our national and individual history.

.בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים

In every generation, each  individual is required to see herself as if she was redeemed from Egypt. G-d’s redemption, was not only between G-d and the nation of Israel as the two entities, but are to be experienced by each and every individual. G-d’s act of love, in redeeming us is not only a national act, but a personal one. Perhaps is why each individual celebrates his or her unique relationship with G-d by performing the mitzvot on Pesah.

May we each deepen our personal relationship with the Divine this pesah and may we continue to find ways to continue to mark G-d’s love and though mitzvah, further this relationship over pesah and year-round.

Hag Kasher V’Sameah.

Kafka comes to NYC Part II

Thanks to MyUpperWest for covering this story.
Here are a couple of pictures taken at 8:50 this morning at Riverside and 96th st.


don’t be deceived by the fact that you can see the sidewalk…. this hasn’t been cleared since last week’s ice storm, so the sidewalk is very slick.

Though the city can’t work out which agency is responsible for clearing the ice, I’m sure that there are many lawyers who would be happy to work out who is responsible if someone gets hurt.

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Kafka comes to NYC

This section of sidewalk where Riverside Drive passes over 96th street, on the east side of the road is still icy and dangerous (especially for those who need to run to the bus).

Riverside drive and 96th street

For the second time this year, I called 311 to file a complaint to ask the city to clear the sidewalk. Instead I was treated to an excursus about how, since there is no private or commercial property around the sidewalk, the city is not sure which of it’s own department is responsible for snow and ice removal but they were starting an investigation to figure it out.

I explained that I don’t care which city department is responsible, as a tax paying citizen of NYC, I expect the city to work out its issues and shovel the sidewalk. I was told that though it is reasonable for me to have no vested interest in who does the job, the folks at 311 can’t enter it into the system until they can assign it to a department. Though I was assured that after my first complaint, they sent an officer to look at the sidewalk and he noted that there were no violations.

Thanks. I’m not trying to get someone a ticket, I’m trying to get the sidewalk shoveled! In the end, my complaint was put on a list of complaints that they were collecting as they look into the matter further. Not helpful.

Anyone have any practical or creative suggestions for getting the city to do its job?!

merit of tinokos shel beis raban??!

Went for the weekend to pick up my mail- and I received a letter from these guys.

The gist of the letter is really something that can’t be described, so I copied it from their website:

Our Torah leaders have recognized the increase in worldwide travel accidents. That’s why they are so enthusiastic about this powerful, protective measure: Shemirah Bidrachim – Protection on the Road.

In this revolutionary initiative, thousands of people just like you are protecting themselves with an effective method that has proven itself throughout our history: the merit of pure Jewish children whose prayers and Torah study keep the world in existence

To quote Hagaon Harav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, shlita,The pure and holy prayers of Jewish children have the ability to cease the casualties of vehicle mishaps!

For just a few pennies a day, you too can gain this protection for yourself and your family.

In exchange for a contribution made to the Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project, the pupils will study and recite pirkei tehilim daily, and entreat G-d to protect and save the insured from any trouble and distress and lead him toward peace, emplace his footsteps toward peace, and have him reach his desired destination for life, gladness and peace, and send blessing and success in all his endeavors, wherever he may turn.”

Seriously?! This raises a number of questions:
  1. How did I get on your mailing list? (no idea)
  2. Will they insure females, or since they should be at home anyway, they won’t be covered?
  3. Who takes this seriously? (from their website, Rav Eliyashiv, Ovadya Yosef and others)
  4. Do people buy this? (at least a couple people with a faulty sense of logic)
  5. Are they aware that their claim that the prayers of children studying torah might not work?
Apparently so, their website includes the following disclaimer:

This agreement is a spiritual agreement! It does not constitute any grounds for the Insured to claim money from the Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project.

I guess the prayers of tinokos shel beis raban are not as effective at protecting against lawsuits.

Levantine Pizza Roll

-conceived and cooked by Tim.

Ingredients:
1 laffa (now available at Fairway)
olive oil
fresh mozzarella
zatar

Method:

  • Preheat oven to ~400 F
  • Brush laffa with olive oil
  • Place thin slices of mozzarella on laffa
  • Sprinkle with zatar
  • Bake in oven until cheese is melted but not brown
  • Carefully roll laffa
  • Hold for a few moments so it sticks together
  • Slice into three inch peices and serve

It looks something like this shortly after it’s finished cooking:

Parhsat Vaera- 5770

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, January 2010

Shabbat Shalom.
Parshat Vaera opens with these words:

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לֹ֥א נֹודַ֖עְתִּ לָהֶֽם׃

“G-d Spoke to Moses and said to him “I am Hashem, I appeared to Abraham, Issac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name Hashem…”

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Defensiveness

After checking in for our flight we decided to davan at the synagogue in our terminal. JFK is strange in that it has separate chapels for different religions. I hadn’t seen this before. To be honest, I think I might be more comfortable doing my airport davaning in a space that is not dedicated only to Jews. This eliminates the problem of someone else thinking that they have any right to be judgmental about my observances. Also, the room looks like a shul, complete with mehitza. You can see pictures here. This doesn’t bother me when I don’t have to stand behind it, but as I walked towards the end of the hallway where the synagogue was, it became clear that also headed in the same direction was a haredi gentleman, who was headed to the same place.

Uh Oh.

We got there first and we proceeded to do our thing. The haredi enters and quickly figures out that A Girl Is Wearing Tefilin!!!.

Uh Oh.

Actually he says hello and is just curious. He has never heard of this, let alone seen it. He asks if he can take pictures. I sigh and reluctantly say okay.
His English is weak and he asks if we speak Hebrew. I answer in the affirmative and the conversation switches to Hebrew.

He’s from Bnai Brak, and his mind is spinning, trying to process what is happening.
-Are we Reform?
No Conservative.
-Do we keep halakhah?
Yes.
-Everything?
Yes shabbat and kashrut and everything.
-You don’t eat milk and meat together? You keep the rules of family purity?
Yes… everything.
-And you put on tefilin?
Every day… well except for shabbat.

He tells me that his wife is careful to davan three times a day, and actually seems to be quite understanding about women taking on extra mitzvot.

-So how are you different from Orthodox?
Well, we’re egalitarian.
-Apart from that?
Well, we tend to rely on leniencies in halakhah from time to time… (I hadn’t had this converstion in a while, so I did not answer as articulately as I would have liked).
-So do you follow the shulkhan arukh?
Yes, most of the time. Except for places where we don’t.
-Do you have other books that you use?
Yes, we have teshuvot and other codes.

I start to davan, and soon he comes over to interrupt and ask:
-Wait, so you wouldn’t say the blessing that thanks G-d for not making you a woman?
No I don’t. I use a different liturgy (and start to explain the historical origin of the positive brakhot).

He stops me. He’s just trying to figure out how this works. If Judaism doesn’t have to be the way he is familiar with, what has to change and what has to stay the same?

-Are there communities of people like you?
Yes, the shul that I go to gets 150 people regularly.

He asks if we have a problem with assimilation and intermarriage. I answer honestly that intermarriage isn’t generally accepted in the community, but some people do it, and not everyone observes kashrut and shabbat the way that I do.

Throughout the entire exchange he was pleasant. Smiling and not mocking. His questions were genuine and not antagonistic. In fact, much of the time he was unhappy with my answers not for the content, but because I was being defensive- like I had something to prove.

Walking away I was relieved but also sad. I used to be able to have these conversations without being defensive, without preconception for the way that others would react to me.

I’d like to get back to that. I’m glad to be wrong in the way that I think of haredim. I hope that when I run into other haredim, I will be able to assume they are as open-minded as this man. Reading the radicalization of Jerusalem in the press has had an impact on me. Clearly there is no substitute for face to face encounters.

Snow in NY!

Just trudged back through the snow from a friend’s birthday party. (We had a lovely time.)
Arrived in the apartment to find:

and

and

Funny thing is we live on the 4th floor.
Guess it’s time for vacation.
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